Debbie Weil is a terrific writer and blogger. But she made one small slip a few weeks back that had some people --bloggers, mainly-- jumping all over it crying foul. Her crime: Allegedly attempting to "seed" a blog with comments.
The debate around "comment seeding" is not in the same league as, say, someone ratcheting up a company's image with fake posts, as did Whole Foods' CEO's Yahoo postings. But in the touchy blogosphere that is admirably the cheerleader for transparency, it comes off looking that way.
What Debbie did, as this accompanying post suggests, was send a few people an email asking for their reaction and/or comment. The reactions were swift and some severe --on her blog. Her email soliciting comments was posted.
As Debbie says, she was only using email as a back-channel, and didn't mean to deceive anyone.
There are two big issues here:
First the expectation of privacy. When someone contacts a professional colleague or 'friend' (itself an ambiguous term in the MySpace and FaceBook era) there is a tacit understanding that those conversations will be "off the record." But as any experienced PR person will tell you, there is no such thing as "off the record" anymore. Sadly so.
Second: Social media Netiquette. "What's that?" you ask. In this huge, rough experiment we are engaging in, netiquette (which got attention when email and forums were the biggest things) has been dispatched to the basement. Dan York, wrote a related post around the same time that Debbie Weil was being harangued. It was about the need for updating netiquette to embrace social media realities. Is it OK to email a professional colleague about your organization or client, or would that be considered a shameless pitch? Or to turn it around, is it OK to decline to participate in the back-channel? Or are all the back-channels including IM and Twitter, no longer back-channels?
Debbie's slip, which is more a poorly worded piece of communication than anything else teaches us a lot.